Dedicated to the military history and civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire (330 to 1453)

"Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity."

- - - - Princess Anna Comnena (1083–1153) - Byzantine historian

Monday, December 21, 2020

The Constantinople Riots Of 532 AD - The Blues and the Greens

Chariot races and games at Constantinople's Hippodrome
were the center of social and political life in the city.

"Bread and circuses,” the poet Juvenal wrote scathingly. “That’s all the common people want.” 

Food and entertainment. Or to put it another way, basic sustenance and bloodshed, because the most popular entertainments offered by the circuses of Rome were the gladiators and chariot racing, the latter often as deadly as the former. 

As many as 12 four-horse teams raced one another seven times around the confines of the greatest arenas—the Circus Maximus in Rome was 2,000 feet long, but its track was not more than 150 feet wide—and rules were few, collisions all but inevitable, and hideous injuries to the charioteers extremely commonplace. Ancient inscriptions frequently record the deaths of famous racers in their early 20s, crushed against the stone spina that ran down the center of the race track or dragged behind their horses after their chariots were smashed.

Charioteers, who generally started out as slaves, took these risks because there were fortunes to be won. Successful racers who survived could grow enormously wealthy—another Roman poet, Martial, grumbled in the first century A.D. that it was possible to make as much as 15 bags of gold for winning a single race. 

Diocles, the most successful charioteer of them all, earned an estimated 36 million sesterces in the course of his glittering career, a sum sufficient to feed the whole city of Rome for a year. Spectators, too, wagered and won substantial sums, enough for the races to be plagued by all manner of dirty tricks; there is evidence that the fans sometimes hurled nail-studded curse tablets onto the track in an attempt to disable their rivals.

In the days of the Roman republic, the races featured four color-themed teams, the Reds, the Whites, the Greens and the Blues, each of which attracted fanatical support. By the sixth century A.D., after the western half of the empire fell, only two of these survived—the Greens had incorporated the Reds, and the Whites had been absorbed into the Blues. But the two remaining teams were wildly popular in the Eastern, or Byzantine, Empire, which had its capital at Constantinople, and their supporters were as passionate as ever—so much so that they were frequently responsible for bloody riots.

Exactly what the Blues and the Greens stood for remains a matter of dispute among historians. For a long time it was thought that the two groups gradually evolved into what were essentially early political parties, the Blues representing the ruling classes and standing for religious orthodoxy, and the Greens being the party of the people. The Greens were also depicted as proponents of the highly divisive theology of Monophysitism, an influential heresy which held that Christ was not simultaneously divine and human but had only a single nature. (In the fifth and sixth centuries A.D., it threatened to tear the Byzantine Empire apart.) 

After about 500 the rivalry between the Greens and the Blues escalated and spread well outside Constantinople’s chariot racing track, the Hippodrome–a slightly smaller version of the Circus Maximus whose central importance to the capital is illustrated by its position directly adjacent to the main imperial palace. (Byzantine emperors had their own entrance to the arena, a passageway that led directly from the palace to their private box.) This friction came to a head during the reign of Justinian (c. 482-565), one of Byzantium’s greatest but most controversial emperors.

The Bloody Riots of the Empire
The races held in cities around the Empire sometimes became a focal point for religion and politics as well as simple football hooliganismIn 501, for example, the Greens ambushed the Blues in Constantinople’s amphitheater and massacred 3,000 of them. Four years later, in Antioch, there was a riot caused by the triumph of a Green charioteer who had defected from the Blues. 

In 507 AD a faction led an attack on the Jewish synagogue in Antioch. "They set fire to it, plundered everything that was in the synagogue and massacred many people," setting up a cross there and turning the site into a martyrium. One faction leader helped rally support for the Emperor Anastasius during the revolt of Vitalian in AD 515 (cf. Epigram 350, where the emperor, "with the Greens to assist him, warred with the furiously raging enemy of the throne"). In appreciation, Anastasius, who, himself, favored the Reds, restored the privileges of the Greens. 

Image from Istanbul Life.org
Like the Colosseum in Rome, the Hippodrome
was the social center of Constantinople

The great weakness in the Empire was the decline of the different Roman assemblies so the people had no way of peacefully changing their government. By the time of Justinian the eastern Senate had become a rubber stamp institution with little power. The Emperor of the moment could trample on the rights of the people at will.

We see in Procopius' Secret History a true account of the massive corruption, insane spending, lawlessness, attacks on religious minorities and the savage dictatorship of the royal family.

All of the above helped set off the riots.  But these two threads—the fast-growing importance of the circus factions and the ever-increasing burden of taxation—combined in 532 to spark the flame. By this time, John of Cappadocia had been appointed Praetorian Prefect of the East, he had introduced no fewer than 26 new taxes, many of which fell, for the first time, on Rome’s wealthiest citizens. 

This discontent sent shock waves through the imperial city, which were only magnified when Justinian reacted harshly to an outbreak of fighting between the Greens and the Blues at the races of January 10. Sensing the disorder had the potential to spread, and eschewing his allegiance to the Blues, the emperor sent in his troops. Seven of the ringleaders in the rioting were condemned to death.

But on January 10, 532, two of them, a Blue and a Green, escaped and were taking refuge in the sanctuary of a church surrounded by an angry mobThe Blues and the Greens responded by demanding that the two men be pardoned entirely.

Adding fuel to this tinder box was Justinian's policy to try and make his power completely independent of the Senate and the Imperial Council. That caused deep animosity in the senatorial class, and the disaffected senators seized the opportunity to direct the rising against the throne.

The plan was to set on the throne one of the nephews of the former Emperor Anastasius - either Pompeius or Hypatius.

On January 13, 532, a tense and angry populace arrived at the Hippodrome for the races. The Hippodrome was next to the palace complex, and thus Justinian could watch from the safety of his box in the palace and preside over the races. 

From the start, the crowd had been hurling insults at Justinian. By the end of the day, at race 22, the partisan chants had changed from "Blue" or "Green" to a unified Nίκα ("Nika", meaning "Win!" "Victory!" or "Conquer!"), and the crowds broke out and began to assault the palace. For the next five days, the palace was under siege. The fires that started during the tumult resulted in the destruction of much of the city, including the city's foremost church, the Hagia Sophia. 

Belisarius and his Staff
Flavius Belisarius (c. 500 – 565) He was instrumental in the reconquest of much of the Mediterranean territory belonging to the former Western Roman Empire, which had been lost less than a century prior.

A map of the palace quarter, with the 
Hippodrome and the Hagia Sophia

The city was burning and the Imperial Palace under siege. 

It was assuredly high time for the Emperor to employ military force to restore order. But Justinian's hold on power was so weak that the Palace guards, the Scholarians and Excubitors, were unwilling to do anything to defend the throne. They had no feeling of personal devotion to Justinian, and they decided to do nothing and await events.

Fortunately for Justinian there happened to be troops of a more irregular kind in the city, and two loyal and experienced commanders.   Belisarius, who as Master of Soldiers in the East had been conducting the war against Persia, had recently been recalled, and he had in his service a considerable body of armed retainers, chiefly of Gothic race. Mundus, a general who had done good service in the defense of the Danube, was also in the capital with a force of Heruls. But all the soldiers on whom the Emperor could count can hardly have reached the number of 1500.

It was perhaps on Thursday (January 15) that Belisarius rode forth at the head of Goths and Heruls to suppress the revolution. There was a battle, possibly in the Augusteum; many were killed; but the soldiers were too few to win a decisive victory, and the attack only exasperated the people.

During the two following days there was desultory street fighting, and another series of conflagrations. On Friday the mob again set fire to the Praetorium, which had only been partly damaged, and also set fire to the baths of Alexander.

The people thronged to the house of Hypatius, and in spite of his own reluctance and the entreaties of his wife Maria, who cried that he was being taken to his death, carried him to the Forum of Constantine, where he was crowned with a golden chain wreathed like a diadem.

Justinian sent out a trusted eunuch, named Narses, to the Hippodrome with a well-filled purse to sow dissensions and attempt to detach the Blue faction from the rebellion. He could insinuate that Hypatius, like his uncle, would be sure to protect their rivals the Greens, and remind them of the favor which Justinian had shown them in time past and of the unwavering goodwill of Theodora.

While Narses fulfilled this mission, Belisarius and Mundus prepared to attack.

Belisarius drew his sword and gave the word to charge the crowd. Though many of the populace had arms, there was no room in the dense throng to attempt an orderly resistance, and confronted by the band of disciplined soldiers the mob was intimidated and gave way. Moreover there were dissensions among them, for the bribes of Narses had not been fruitless. 

They were cut down without mercy, and then Mundus appeared with his Heruls to help Belisarius in the work of slaughter. Mundus had left the Palace by another way, and he now entered the Hippodrome by a gate known as Nekra. The insurgents were between two fires, and there was a great carnage. 

It was said that the number of the slain exceeded 30,000.

Two nephews of Justinian, Boraides and Justus, then entered the Kathisma without meeting resistance. They seized Hypatius, who had witnessed the battle from his throne, and secured Pompeius, who was with him. The brothers were taken into the Palace, and, notwithstanding the tears of Pompeius and the pleadings of Hypatius that he had acted under compulsion, they were executed on the following day and their bodies were cast into the sea.

This gave the Emperor the opportunity of taking vigorous measures to break down the opposition of the senatorial nobles to his autocracy. There were no more executions, but eighteen senators who had taken a leading part in the conspiracy were punished by the confiscation of their property and banishment. 

At a later time, when he felt quite secure, Justinian pardoned them and restored to them any of their possessions which he had not already bestowed on others, and a similar restitution was even made to the children of Hypatius and Pompeius.

Emperor Justinian

The list of people angry with Justinian was very long. Only through the mass slaughter of his own people could he hold on to power.

The Historian Procopius wrote in his Secret History:   "Of the plundering of property or the murder of men, no weariness ever overtook him. As soon as he had looted all the houses of the wealthy, he looked around for others; meanwhile throwing away the spoils of his previous robberies in subsidies to barbarians or senseless building extravagances. And when he had ruined perhaps myriads in this mad looting, he immediately sat down to plan how he could do likewise to others in even greater number."


Accompanying the Roman general Belisarius in Emperor Justinian's wars, Procopius became the principal Roman historian of the 6th century, writing the History of the Wars, the Buildings, and the Secret History. He is commonly classified as the last major historian of the ancient Western world.

By Procopius of Caesarea
500 - 554 AD
The History of the Wars, Book One

At this same time an insurrection broke out unexpectedly in Byzantium among the populace, and, contrary to expectation, it proved to be a very serious affair, and ended in great harm to the people and to the senate, as the following account will shew. 

In every city the population has been divided for a long time past into the Blue and the Green factions; but within comparatively recent times it has come about that, for the sake of these names and the seats which the rival factions occupy in watching the games, they spend their money and abandon their bodies to the most cruel tortures, and even do not think it unworthy to die a most shameful death. And they fight against their opponents knowing not for what end they imperil themselves, but knowing well that, even if they overcome their enemy in the fight, the conclusion of the matter for them will be to be carried off straightway to the prison, and finally, after suffering extreme torture, to be destroyed. 

So there grows up in them against their fellow men a hostility which has no cause, and at no time does it cease or disappear, for it gives
 place neither to the ties of marriage nor of relationship nor of friendship, and the case is the same even though those who differ with respect to these colours be brothers or any other kin. 

They care neither for things divine nor human in comparison with conquering in these struggles; and it matters not whether a sacrilege is committed by anyone at all against God, or whether the laws and the constitution are violated by friend or by foe; nay even when they are perhaps ill supplied with the necessities of life, and when their fatherland is in the most pressing need and suffering unjustly, they pay no heed if only it is likely to go well with their "faction"; for so they name the bands of partisans. And even women join with them in this unholy strife, and they not only follow the men, but even resist them if opportunity offers, although they neither go to the public exhibitions at all, nor are they impelled by any other cause; so that I, for my part, am unable to call this anything except a disease of the soul. This, then, is pretty well how matters stand among the people of each and every city.

But at this time the officers of the city administration in Byzantium were leading away to death some of the rioters. But the members of the two factions, conspiring together and declaring a truce with each other, seized the prisoners and then straightway entered the prison and released all those who were in confinement there, whether they had been condemned on a charge of stirring up sedition, or for any other unlawful act. And all the attendants in the service of the city government were killed indiscriminately; meanwhile, all of the citizens who were

 sane-minded were fleeing to the opposite mainland, and fire was applied to the city as if it had fallen under the hand of an enemy. 

The sanctuary of Sophia and the baths of Zeuxippus, and the portion of the imperial residence from the propylaea as far as the so-called House of Ares were destroyed by fire, and besides these both the great colonnades which extended as far as the market place which bears the name of Constantine, in addition to many houses of wealthy men and a vast amount of treasure. During this time the emperor and his consort with a few members of the senate shut themselves up in the palace and remained quietly there. Now the watch-word which the populace passed around to one another was Nika, and the insurrection has been called by this name up to the present time.

The Obelisk of Theodosius in  what is left of the Hippodrome. Theodosius the Great, who in 390 brought an obelisk from Egypt and erected it inside the racing track. Carved from pink granite, it was originally erected at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor during the reign of Thutmose III in about 1490 BC. Theodosius had the obelisk cut into three pieces and brought to Constantinople.

Computer recreations by Byzantium 1200 of the obelisk and the Hippodrome as it may have looked in the year 1200.

The praetorian prefect at that time was John the Cappadocian, and Tribunianus, a Pamphylian by birth, was counsellor to the emperor; this person the Romans call "quaestor." One of these two men, John, was entirely without the advantages of a liberal education; for he learned nothing while attending the elementary school except his letters, and these, too, poorly enough; but by his natural ability he became the most powerful man of whom we know. For he was most capable in deciding upon what was needful and in finding a solution for difficulties. But he became the basest of all men and employed his natural power to further his low designs; neither consideration for God nor any shame before man entered into his mind, but to destroy the lives of many men for the sake of gain and to wreck whole cities was his

 constant concern. 

So within a short time indeed he had acquired vast sums of money, and he flung himself completely into the sordid life of a drunken scoundrel; for up to the time of lunch each day he would plunder the property of his subjects, and for the rest of the day occupy himself with drinking and with wanton deeds of lust. And he was utterly unable to control himself, for he ate food until he vomited, and he was always ready to steal money and more ready to bring it out and spend it. Such a man then was John. 

Tribunianus, on the other hand, both possessed natural ability and in educational attainments was inferior to none of his contemporaries; but he was extraordinarily fond of the pursuit of money and always ready to sell justice for gain; therefore every day, as a rule, he was repealing some laws and proposing others, selling off to those who requested it either favour according to their need.

Now as long as the people were waging this war with each other in behalf of the names of the colours, no attention was paid to the offences of these men against the constitution; but when the factions came to a mutual understanding, as has been said, and so began the sedition, then openly throughout the whole city they began to abuse the two and went about seeking them to kill. Accordingly the emperor, wishing to win the people to his side, instantly dismissed both these men from office. 

And Phocas, a patrician, he appointed praetorian prefect, a man of the greatest discretion and fitted by nature to be a guardian of justice; Basilides he commanded to fill the office of quaestor, a man known among the patricians for his agreeable qualities and a notable besides. However,
 the insurrection continued no less violently under them. 

Now on the fifth day of the insurrection in the late afternoon the Emperor Justinian gave orders to Hypatius and Pompeius, nephews of the late emperor, Anastasius, to go home as quickly as possible, either because he suspected that some plot was being matured by them against his own person, or, it may be, because destiny brought them to this. But they feared that the people would force them to the throne (as in fact fell out), and they said that they would be doing wrong if they should abandon their sovereign when he found himself in such danger. 

When the Emperor Justinian heard this, he inclined still more to his suspicion, and he bade them quit the palace instantly. Thus, then, these two men betook themselves to their homes, and, as long as it was night, they remained there quietly.

But on the following day at sunrise it became known to the people that both men had quit the palace where they had been staying. So the whole population ran to them, and they declared Hypatius emperor and prepared to lead him to the market-place to assume the power. But the wife of Hypatius, Mary, a discreet woman, who had the greatest reputation for prudence, laid hold of her husband and would not let go, but cried out with loud lamentation and with entreaties to all her kinsmen that the people were leading him on the road to death. 

But since the throng overpowered her, she unwillingly released her husband, and he by no will of his own came to the Forum of Constantine, where they summoned him to the throne; then since they
 had neither diadem nor anything else with which it is customary for a king to be clothed, they placed a golden necklace upon his head and proclaimed him Emperor of the Romans. 

By this time the members of the senate were assembling,—as many of them as had not been left in the emperor's residence,—and many expressed the opinion that they should go to the palace to fight. But Origenes, a man of the senate, came forward and spoke as follows: 

"Fellow Romans, it is impossible that the situation which is upon us be solved in any way except by war. Now war and royal power are agreed to be the greatest of all things in the world. But when action involves great issues, it refuses to be brought to a successful conclusion by the brief crisis of a moment, but this is accomplished only by wisdom of thought and energy of action, which men display for a length of time. Therefore if we should go out against the enemy, our cause will hang in the balance, and we shall be taking a risk which will decide everything in a brief space of time; and, as regards the consequences of such action, we shall either fall down and worship Fortune or reproach her altogether. For those things whose issue is most quickly decided, fall, as a rule, under the sway of fortune. But if we handle the present situation more deliberately, not even if we wish shall we be able to take Justinian in the palace, but he will very speedily be thankful if he is allowed to flee; for authority which is ignored always loses its power, since its strength ebbs away with each day. Moreover we have other palaces, both Placillianae and the palace named from Helen, which this emperor should
 make his headquarters and from there he should carry on the war and attend to the ordering of all other matters in the best possible way." So spoke Origenes. 

Roman soldiers 6th and 7th century
Facebook.com/Numerus Invictorum

But the rest, as a crowd is accustomed to do, insisted more excitedly and thought that the present moment was opportune, and not least of all Hypatius (for it was fated that evil should befall him) bade them lead the way to the hippodrome. But some say that he came there purposely, being well-disposed toward the emperor.

Now the emperor and his court were deliberating as to whether it would be better for them if they remained or if they took to flight in the ships. And many opinions were expressed favouring either course. 

And the Empress Theodora also spoke to the following effect: "As to the belief that a woman ought not to be daring among men or to assert herself boldly among those who are holding back from fear, I consider that the present crisis most certainly does not permit us to discuss whether the matter should be regarded in this or in some other way. For in the case of those whose interests have come into the greatest danger nothing else seems best except to settle the issue immediately before them in the best possible way. My opinion then is that the present time, above all others, is inopportune for flight, even though it bring safety. For while it is impossible for a man who has seen the light not also to die, for one who has been an emperor it is unendurable to be a fugitive. May I never be separated from this purple, and may I not live that day on which those who meet me shall not address me as mistress. If, now, it is your wish to save yourself, O Emperor, there is no difficulty. For
 we have much money, and there is the sea, here the boats. However consider whether it will not come about after you have been saved that you would gladly exchange that safety for death. For as for myself, I approve a certain ancient saying that royalty is a good burial-shroud."

 When the queen had spoken thus, all were filled with boldness, and, turning their thoughts towards resistance, they began to consider how they might be able to defend themselves if any hostile force should come against them. Now the soldiers as a body, including those who were stationed about the emperor's court, were neither well disposed to the emperor nor willing openly to take an active part in fighting, but were waiting for what the future would bring forth. 

All the hopes of the emperor were centred upon Belisarius and Mundus, of whom the former, Belisarius, had recently returned from the Persian war bringing with him a following which was both powerful and imposing, and in particular he had a great number of spearmen and guards who had received their training in battles and the perils of warfare. Mundus had been appointed general of the Illyrians, and by mere chance had happened to come under summons to Byzantium on some necessary errand, bringing with him Erulian barbarians.

When Hypatius reached the hippodrome, he went up immediately to where the emperor is accustomed to take his place and seated himself on the royal throne from which the emperor was always accustomed to view the equestrian and athletic contests. 

And from the palace Mundus went out through the gate which, from the circling descent, has been given 
the name of the Snail. Belisarius meanwhile began at first to go straight up toward Hypatius himself and the royal throne, and when he came to the adjoining structure where there has been a guard of soldiers from of old, he cried out to the soldiers commanding them to open the door for him as quickly as possible, in order that he might go against the tyrant. But since the soldiers had decided to support neither side, until one of them should be manifestly victorious, they pretended not to hear at all and thus put him off. 

So Belisarius returned to the emperor and declared that the day was lost for them, for the soldiers who guarded the palace were rebelling against him. The emperor therefore commanded him to go to the so-called Bronze Gate and the propylaea there. So Belisarius, with difficulty and not without danger and great exertion, made his way over ground covered by ruins and half-burned buildings, and ascended to the stadium. And when he had reached the Blue Colonnade which is on the right of the emperor's throne, he purposed to go against Hypatius himself first; but since there was a small door there which had been closed and was guarded by the soldiers of Hypatius who were inside, he feared lest while he was struggling in the narrow space the populace should fall upon him, and after destroying both himself and all his followers, should proceed with less trouble and difficulty against the emperor. 

Concluding, therefore, that he must go against the populace who had taken their stand in the hippodrome—a vast multitude crowding each other in great disorder—he drew his sword from its sheath and, commanding the others to do likewise, with a
 shout he advanced upon them at a run. But the populace, who were standing in a mass and not in order, at the sight of armoured soldiers who had a great reputation for bravery and experience in war, and seeing that they struck out with their swords unsparingly, beat a hasty retreat. 

Then a great outcry arose, as was natural, and Mundus, who was standing not far away, was eager to join in the fight,—for he was a daring and energetic fellow—but he was at a loss as to what he should do under the circumstances; when, however, he observed that Belisarius was in the struggle, he straightway made a sally into the hippodrome through the entrance which they call the Gate of Death. Then indeed from both sides the partisans of Hypatius were assailed with might and main and destroyed. 

When the rout had become complete and there had already been great slaughter of the populace, Boraedes and Justus, nephews of the Emperor Justinian, without anyone daring to lift a hand against them, dragged Hypatius down from the throne, and, leading him in, handed him over together with Pompeius to the emperor. 

And there perished among the populace on that day more than thirty thousand. But the emperor commanded the two prisoners to be kept in severe confinement. Then, while Pompeius was weeping and uttering pitiable words (for the man was wholly inexperienced in such misfortunes), Hypatius reproached him at length and said that those who were about to die unjustly should not lament. For in the beginning they had been forced by the people against their will, and afterwards they had come to the hippodrome with no thought of harming the emperor. 

And the soldiers killed both
 of them on the following day and threw their bodies into the sea. The emperor confiscated all their property for the public treasury, and also that of all the other members of the senate who had sided with them. Later, however, he restored to the children of Hypatius and Pompeius and to all others the titles which they had formerly held, and as much of their property as he had not happened to bestow upon his friends. 

This was the end of the insurrection in Byzantium.

Chariot Race at the Hippodrome


Empress Theodora 
by Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1887)

Theodora’s mother was probably an acrobat. She was certainly married to the man who held the position of bear-keeper to the Greens. When he died unexpectedly, leaving her with three young daughters, the mother was left destitute. Desperate, she hastily remarried and went with her infant children to the arena, where she begged the Greens to find a job for her new husband. They pointedly ignored her, but the Blues—sensing the opportunity to paint themselves as more magnanimous—found work for him. 

Unsurprisingly, Theodora thereafter grew up to be a violent partisan of the Blues, and her unswerving support for the faction became a factor in Roman life after 527, when she was crowned as empress—not least because Justinian himself, before he became Emperor, had given 30 years of loud support to the same team.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Military Brain Surgery in the Byzantine Empire

  • I doubt that there was time during the madness of a battle to do more than the very basics of trying to keep men alive.  But once the enemy retreated the skilled Roman Medical Corps attached to the army would swing into action.

(Greek Reporter)  A proto-Byzantine-era skull which was discovered by anthropologists in the Paliokastro area on Thasos island shows signs of complicated surgery, according to a new Athens-Macedonian News Agency (AMNA) report.

The skull, which dates from the early Byzantine period — the fourth to the seventh century AD — bears traces of surgery that are “incredibly complex,” according to researcher Anagnostis Agelarakis, Ph.D., who teaches at Adeplhi University.

The discovery was made by an Adelphi University research team led by Agelarakis. A total of ten skeletons, of four women and six men, were found and studied. They are likely to be persons of high social status, based on the location and architecture of the burial site.

“According to their skeletal-anatomical features, both men and women lived physically demanding lives…The very serious trauma cases sustained by both males and females had been treated surgically or orthopedically by a very experienced physician/surgeon with great training in trauma care. We believe it to have been a military physician,” the report says.

In regards to the man’s skull, “even despite a grim prognosis, an extensive effort was given to this surgery for this male. So it’s likely that he was a very important individual to the population at Paliokastro.”

The report also notes that it is likely that the person had an infection that required surgery, while the other man, presumably an archer, appears to have died shortly after or during the doctor’s attempt to save him.

“The surgical operation is the most complex I have ever seen in my 40 years of working with anthropological materials,” Agelarakis said. “It is unbelievable that it was carried out, with the most complicated preparations for the intervention, and then the surgical operation itself which took place, of course, in a pre-antibiotic era.”

The findings can be found in detail in a new book, titled “Eastern Roman Mounted Archers and Extraordinary Medico-Surgical Interventions at Paliokastro in Thasos Island during the ProtoByzantine Period,” by Archaeopress, Access Archaeology.

Titus Pullo has brain surgery

A scene from Book XII of the Aeneid: the physician Iapyx treats the
wounded Aeneas, who is supported by his weeping son Ascanius.
Read More:

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Roman Limes in Armenia & Arabia - The Eastern Front

Persian Cavalry  

Rome vs Persia - The Eternal War

Though not spoken of, when you have 700 hundred years of war with the Persian Empire it only makes sense that a line of fortifications was built on the Eastern Front.

So while surfing the net I found a 2013 article titled "Military Infrastructure in the Eastern Roman Provices."  If you have trouble sleeping at night then articles like this are the cure. Still it brought forward some ignored information on a forgotten Roman Limes system in Armenia.

Rome's eastern defenses were remodeled from the 3rd century on to cope with the growing power of the Persian Empire under the Sassanid Dynasty.

The defensive system adapted to meet the terrain with fortified cities, fortresses, forts and fortified highland redoubts. All of these were supported by a series of Roman roads to speed the movement of troops.

Over time the Roman military focused more to the north in Armenia and the desert south was left to Christian Arab allied tribes. 

Very little infrastructure remains - - - What exists is largely tiny amounts of rubble.

The fortifications served two functions:  1) They provided a barrier against Persian invasion and 2) bases for offensive Roman military action against Persia.

The System of Roman Limes
War with Persia was the one constant of the Roman Republic and Empire. The Roman-Persian Wars lasted nearly 700 years from 54BC to 628AD.

But notice in the map above there is a giant hole in the Armenia/Eastern Anatolia sector where a limes system of fortifications should be listed. An article I ran across on Roman Military Infrastructure helped fill in that gap of a missing limes system.

In an article I found on military infrastructure in the Eastern Provinces we see a Limes system of fortresses (in yellow) facing Persia supported by Roman roads to speed the movement of troops.

Roman Road in Anatolia
The Roman road system in the east helped troops rapidly respond to the Persians but also stimulated the local economy.

Over the centuries Rome spent mountains of gold in the east building every possible type of defensive structure to hold off a Persian invasion.

The big problem is almost NOTHING remains to be seen. The limes system has virtually turned to dust.

The city of Satala in central Anatolia is a good example of the Anatolia Limes system of eastern fortifications.

As a frontline fortress against Persia, Satala was the Roman legionary base, used by XVI Flavia Firma and XV Apollinaris.

After the conquest of Mesopotamia by Septimius Severus in the last decade of the second century, Satala was still a front city, but the Armenian province across the Euphrates, the district known as Sophene, posed no direct military threat. However, occupation of this site remained vital, because Satala still was the main connection between the Black Sea, the river and Antioch near the Mediterranean in the south.

The border wars both larger and smaller continued on and on for centuries with little real change in the border.

Satala Fortress East Gate
Yes, I said the same thing, "That's a gate? How do they know?"
I guess when the Persians destroy a fortress they really destroy a fortress.  
From Livius.org

Satala shows us the vanished Armenian limes. and the endless money needed to keep the forts repaired.

The site was fortified again in 529 by the emperor Justinian. His historian Procopius writes:

  • "The city of Satala had been in a precarious state in ancient times. For it is situated not far from the land of the enemy and it also lies in a low-lying plain and is dominated by many hills which tower around it, and for this reason it stood in need of circuit-walls which would defy attack. Nevertheless, even though its surroundings were of such a nature as this, its defenses were in a perilous condition, having been carelessly constructed with bad workmanship in the beginning, and with the long passage of time the masonry had everywhere collapsed. But the Emperor tore all this down and built there a new circuit wall, so high that it seemed to overtop the hills around it, and of a thickness sufficient to ensure the safety of its towering mass. And he set up admirable outworks on all sides and so struck terror into the hearts of the enemy."

The fortress of Satala survived for almost a century after Procopius wrote, but was eventually captured and destroyed in 607/608 by the Sasanian King Khusrau II (r.590-628).

Roman fortresses (in yellow) on the Armenian eastern front up against the Persian Empire.

The Northern Most Limes Fortress
Ruins of the fortress Petra north of Armenia in Georgia. In the 6th century, under the Emperor Justinian I, it served as an important Eastern Roman outpost in the Caucasus and, due to its strategic location, became a battleground of the 541–562 Lazic War between Rome and Persia.

The name of Petra, literally, "rock" in Greek, was a reference to the rocky and precipitous coast where the city was built. Its location between the sea and the cliffs rendered the city inaccessible, except for a narrow and rocky stretch of level ground, which was defended by a defensive wall with two towers.

The Roman Fortress of Qasr Bashir in Jordan

The Limes Arabicus was a desert frontier of the Roman Empire, in the province of Arabia Petraea. It ran -at its biggest extension- for about 1,500 km, from Northern Syria to Southern Palestine and northern Arabia, forming part of the wider Roman limes system. It had several forts and watchtowers.

The reason of this defensive "Limes" was to protect the Roman "Province of Arabia" from attacks of the barbarian tribes of the Arabian desert.

It is likely that Qasr Bashir was originally home to an auxiliary cavalry unit, charged with defending the Roman frontier and keeping the peace in the surrounding area.

The soldiers at a limes were referred to as limitanei. Compared to the regular Roman military, they tended to be more likely to be of local descent, be paid less, and be overall less prestigious. However, they were not expected to win large scales wars, but rather deter small-to-medium-sized raiders.

Limes Arabicus
Selected forts are highlighted in yellow.

Until the Persian invasion of the 600s this southern sector of Rome's Eastern Front was largely a quiet backwater. But even so money was spent to fortify the area and man the sector with troops.

Troops were progressively withdrawn from the Limes Arabicus in the first half of the 6th century and replaced with native Arab foederati, chiefly the Ghassanids. After the Muslim Arab conquest, the Limes Arabicus was largely left to disappear, though some fortifications were used and reinforced in the following centuries.

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